Sistemas Agrolimentarios

Food Systems Summit: pathways for transformation in the Mediterranean


Countries and stakeholders come together in the SFS-MED Food Systems Summit Dialogues to exchange views on food systems transformation, strengthening regional cooperation.

With the UN Food Systems Pre-Summit only days away, attention to actions for food systems transformation towards a better and sustainable future is being raised worldwide. This global event, hosted by the Government of Italy in Rome from 26 to 28 July 2021, will build on the progress made through the Food Systems Summit Dialogues process, laying the groundwork for a productive UN Food Systems Summit, which will take place in September.

Within this context, on Monday 21 June 2021, representatives from ten Mediterranean countries (Albania, Egypt, France, Israel, Italy, Jordan, Malta, Spain, Tunisia and Turkey) participated in a virtual roundtable to share their perspectives and approaches to food systems transformation, explaining how the national Food Systems Summit Dialogues have facilitated in setting their priority goals and actions to build sustainable food systems, and based on an inclusive understanding of current challenges and potential solutions.

The roundtable was held during the second Independent Food Systems Summit Dialogue on “Pathways for the Future of Sustainable Food Systems in the Mediterranean”, co-convened by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Centre for Advanced Mediterranean Agronomic Studies (CIHEAM), the Secretariat of the Union for the Mediterranean (UfMS), the One Planet Network’s Sustainable Food Systems Programme (OPN-SFSP) and the Partnership for Research and Innovation in the Mediterranean Area (PRIMA) Foundation. The two Independent dialogues, held respectively on 27 April and 21 June, were organized to foster a common understanding of the complexity of food systems and pathways for their transformation towards sustainability, with a specific focus on the Mediterranean context. Overcoming the unprecedented and interdependent environmental, economic and social challenges that affect the whole region requires concerted action and effective cooperation under a shared vision inspired by the principles of the 2030 Agenda.

The two “SFS-MED” Food Systems Summit Dialogues gathered around 300 people from over 15 different stakeholder groups and over 30 countries, who, stressing the centrality of food systems transformation to the achievement of the 17 SDGs, had the opportunity to exchange views and share ideas on what can be done, how, and who needs to be involved in such change of route in the Mediterranean. Ismahane Elouafi, Chief Scientist, represented FAO in both dialogues, and Jamie Morrison, Director, Food Systems and Food Safety Division, was the dialogue curator.

Proposed actions that emerged from the discussions included: the sustainable management of land & water (solutions to water scarcity such as wastewater treatment and desalinization); sustainable use of natural resources and of farm inputs (e.g.: agroecology, use of renewable energy); promoting healthy dietary choices and sustainable consumption (school feeding programmes and food education); strengthening urban-rural linkages and the role of cities; promoting sustainable rural entrepreneurship through the development of capacities and skills, with a focus on women and youth; reducing food losses and waste; and improving and harmonising food systems governance at national and regional level, considering trade-offs, complementarities, and using some of the existing frameworks (e.g.: EU Farm to Fork strategy, UN Food Systems Summit).

Several speakers stressed the importance of the cultural and “human” dimension of food in the region, with the Mediterranean diet seen as an opportunity to build healthier and more sustainable food systems. In this context, there was a call to switch to sustainable consumption and production models, also noting that a systemic approach to food systems transformation at regional level is of essence and highly useful to support pathways for more sustainable food systems in the Mediterranean.

The discussions in the multi-stakeholder panels and discussion groups that composed the dialogues contributed to shaping this shared approach to food systems transformation in the Mediterranean, hinging on the following entry points:

-        contribution of food systems to a blue, green and circular economy;

-        sustainable management of land and water resources;

-        the Mediterranean diet as a lever for sustainability outcomes;

-        the centrality of cities and rural-urban food systems;

-        equitable livelihoods.

Moreover, a number of cross-cutting aspects were highlighted as crucial to enabling the transformative actions cutting across those entry points:

-        Multi-stakeholder partnerships, which are key to providing an arena for dialogue, based on an equal footing among stakeholders, co-ownership, co-management and co-funding, to avoid power imbalances and top-down dynamics.

-        Sustainable finance and investments: underfunding emerged as a common issue during the discussions. An inclusive multi-stakeholder approach to strengthening the linkages between private and public finance is needed, supporting small-holders by making investments in sustainable food systems more attractive (de-risking). International Finance Institutions (IFIs) and development banks play an pivotal role in this interface, while economic, social and environmental standards and labelling/certification schemes could be functional to putting consumers’ demand at the centre.

-        Science, data and innovation (technological, organizational, social and ecological) that must be inclusive and accessible to all stakeholder, especially to small-holders and people living in rural areas.

-        Education, capacity building and awareness raising, as food systems transformation starts locally, involving all stakeholders, who must be enabled to take part in this process. Effective capacity building is needed, linking researchers and innovators to the beneficiaries (farmers/fishers/foresters, investors, etc), fostering the development of skills and inclusive entrepreneurship, especially for women and youth.

The dialogues were a timely opportunity for all stakeholders across food systems in the Mediterranean to consolidate their efforts in advancing the need for strengthened regional cooperation as a source of new ideas and as a catalyst of transformative actions, under a shared approach to sustainable food systems.

To this effect, the SFS-MED Platform, a strategic initiative being developed by FAO, CIHEAM and UfM, was recognized as an important tool to bring together stakeholders from all shores of the Mediterranean, fostering dialogue at several levels to leverage the potential of local knowledge and data sharing, as well as exchanges of best practices, and to catalyse knowledge and collective action for more sustainable food systems. The Platform was seen as a potential tool to integrate and address both thematic and crosscutting issues leading to food systems transformation and to the long-term sustainable and inclusive development for the whole region.

By catalysing different initiatives/mechanisms and identifying concrete collaborative solutions to common challenges hindering food systems in the region, the SFS-MED Platform is well placed to play a strategic role in accompanying countries and stakeholders in the follow-up process to the Pre-Summit and Summit, in particular supporting the efforts in identifying food systems transformation pathways, as well as associated policy and behavioural shifts, ultimately enabling the change of route that will lead to more sustainable food systems by 2030.

The Summit Dialogues process highlighted how platforms and networks could function as implementation strategies to generate solutions, share ideas, build alliances, educate members, and, indeed, strengthen partnerships and fostering investments. The SFS-MED Platform thoroughly embraces these principles.

With less than 9 years left before the 2030 “deadline”, the 2021 Food Systems Summit and its Pre-Summit are set to deliver the latest evidence-based and scientific approaches to food systems transformation from around the world, lever commitments through coalitions of action and mobilize new financing and partnerships. These global events also mark an unmissable occasion to promote a discourse and narrative at regional level. In this context, the SFS-MED Platform will be instrumental in facilitating and catalysing efforts towards food systems transformation in the region, ultimately advancing progress on the 2030 Agenda.

For further information, please refer to the following material:

-        Concept note of the two Independent Dialogues on Pathways for the Future of Sustainable Food Systems in the Mediterranean;

-        Dialogue 1 (27 April 2021): recording of plenary sessions (part I and part II), and official feedback form;

-        Dialogue 2 (21 June 2021): recording (link) and official feedback form;

-        Synthesis of Independent Dialogues report.